Monday 23 September 2019

Pat Spillane picks his top 30 gaelic footballers of 2018 and 14 players from his 2017 selection are missing

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One third of the players selected by Pat Spillane are from Jim Gavin's Dublin
One third of the players selected by Pat Spillane are from Jim Gavin's Dublin

Pat Spillane

I am going into full Larry Gogan mode and selecting my Top 30 – my best 30 footballers in Ireland from the 2018 Championship.

This is my second time to do the list and I accept that people will have other ideas – just look at the mess the 17 All-Star selectors made of the football team.

Two final thoughts on that team before it is consigned to history.

Supporters of Rory Beggan have been pouring out loads of statistics about how impressive their man was.

To them I offer Mark Twain’s ‘lies, damn lies and statistics’.

Yes, Stephen Cluxton made a mistake or two this year, but Beggan made three huge ones,two of which cost Monaghan wins – against Fermanagh and Kerry when he didn’t dominate his square.

The other sounded the deathknell for Monaghan’s championship – ballooning the ball up in the air against Tyrone in the All-Ireland semi-final when it was crucial that his team held possession.

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The other issue is the daft selection of Colm Cavanagh at full-back. He deserved to be on the team, but at midfield. If the selection is going down that road then they ought to have stuck Cluxton in at corner-back!

My selection criteria were skill, consistency, football intelligence, athleticism, composure and leadership. I didn’t look at the 2017 Top 30 until I had finally settled on this year’s selection. No fewer than 14 players are not back in my favour.

They are Con O’Callaghan and Diarmuid Connolly of Dublin; five Mayo players, Keith Higgins, Aidan O’Shea, Andy Moran, Lee Keegan and Chris Barrett;two from Kerry, James O’Donoghue and Paul Murphy; EndaSmith (Roscommon), Kevin Feely (Kildare), John Heslin (Westmeath), Ian Maguire (Cork) and Caolan Mooney (Down).

The biggest riser and faller were both Dubs;Paul Mannion from 28 to 8 and the biggest tumble was Cian O’Sullivan’s 2 to 20.

1. Brian Fenton

Ciarán Kilkenny and Brian Fenton

Dublin’s Mr Consistency. Fenton was my main man last year too. He’s the complete footballer who ticks all the boxes, simply the best.

2. Ciaran Kilkenny 

A magnificent figure for the All-Ireland champions as his game evolved from being playmaker to scorer.

3. Jack McCaffrey

The flying wing-back made a great recovery from an injury sustained in the 2017 All-Ireland Final. Man of the Match in both the All-Ireland semi-final and Final this year.

4. David Clifford

He made the step up to senior with ease. Kerry’s best player in an under-performing team. Almost every shot on goal he took went over or under th sdefe bar.

5. Colm Cavanagh 

Super in leading his club, Moy, to an All-Ireland intermediate title early in the year, he carried on all summer with Tyrone. Mickey Harte – will you let Cavanagh off the defensive leash? It would do Tyrone good.

6. Conor McManus 

Conor McManus. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

What a great year for McManus who spends most of his time as a one-man forward line. That point against Tyrone from the sideline in Omagh was the grace note of a fine campaign.

7. Brian Howard

He’s the prototype of a Dublin player– strong, fast, skilful and could play well in any line of the Sky Blue team.

8. Paul Mannion 

He continues to improve each summer, adding work-rate, tracking back and tackling to serious scoretaking for Dublin.

9. Padraig Hampsey 

Another player who is seriously versatile, Hampsey could play anywhere from 2 to 9 for Tyrone and is a great man-marker too.

10. James McCarthy

Dublin’s ever-purring engine who is a great ball carrier and equally comfortable in defence or attack.

11. Dean Rock

I’ll say it again, ‘Deano’ is to this Dublin team what the great John Egan was to my team, a totally under-rated footballer. One of the best.

12. Mattie Donnelly

Tyrone's Mattie Donnelly

He’s Tyrone’s version of James McCarthy. A workhorse who can play anywhere and score some great points on the run.

13. Stephen Cluxton 

Need I say any more about the Dublin skipper. Quite simply, the position of goalkeeper on a Gaelic Football team will never be the same again.

14. Rory Beggan

The Monaghan net-minder had a great year with incredible kicking of placed balls, whether as kick-outs or for scores.

15. Ryan McHugh 

A great small player, McHugh might not be Donegal’s best player, but their team would be absolutely lost without him.

16. Johnny Cooper 

Ah yes, the Dubs’ Sergio Ramos, probably the best man-marker in the modern game.

17. Damien Comer 

Galay's Damien Comer. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile

A human wrecking ball and a great target man. Memo to Galway Management - Play him nowhere else but on top of the opposition’s square.

18. Patrick McBrearty

I think Donegal would have beaten Tyrone in the vital last Super 8s match if McBrearty was fit.

19. Paul Geaney

I’m being a bit kind to my fellow Kerryman. A truly brilliant forward when at his best, he wasn’t at that level in the Super 8s.

20. Cian O’Sullivan 

No one reads the game better than the Dublin defender, no one, but injuries curbed O’Sullivan’s influence this year.

21. Shane Walsh

The Galwayman has everything, electrifying pace, brilliant skills and he’s good on the placed balls.

22. Niall Sludden

A good player who moves well on and off the ball. But two bad games against the Dubs, when Tyrone wanted more from him, cost Sludden about ten places on this list.

23. Daniel Flynn

Kildare star Daniel Flynn. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

 If I was in the Kildare back-room, I’d pay Kieran Donaghy a few bob to come up from Tralee and coach Flynn for a few nights in the use and awareness of space. That’s all this lad is missing to be the complete full-forward. The rest of the package is in place.

24. Peter Harte 

The Tyrone man can play anywhere from 2 to 15 and maybe suffers for that versatility. Tyrone people will admit, privately, that they look for more from him in the biggest matches - and don’t get it.

25. Karl O’Connell

He is to Monaghan what Jack McCaffrey is to Dublin, a great link man and O’Connell can score points too.

26. Gavin White

The Kerry defender is a serious up-and-coming talent who can man-mark with the best of them.

27. Rory Grugan

To sum it up simply, the Armagh attacker is the best forward not playing in Division One of the League.

28. Michael McKernan

A real find for Tyrone this season, McKernan can mark and tackle with the best of them.

29. Eoghan Ban Gallagher

Tenacious and consistent, Donegal could have done with their flyer playing from the start against Tyrone.

30. Graham Brody

52 SPORT BRODY 1329713.jpg
Graham Brody. Photo: Daire Brennan/Sportsfile

Surely, in the summer of 2019, the brilliant Laois shot-stopper will be the first goalkeeper to score a Championship point from play.


So who did I leave out? Well Donegal’s Michael Murphy is the obvious one. I had him in the list, about three times in fact, but had to take him back out again to make room for someone else.

Is he among the best 30 footballers in Ireland over the course of his career? Of course he is, Michael is in the Top 10, maybe five. However, 2018 just wasn’t his year.

There’s no Cork player in my 30, but after Dr Crokes’ demolition job on St Finbarr’s last Sunday, are you surprised?

To be fair to Ian Maguire, he seems cursed to be one of those excellent players who are top footballers at a time when their county is going badly. And Cork football is going very badly.

Lee Keegan of Mayo is one of the best in Ireland, he was just killed by injuries. Paul Broderick of Carlow shot the lights out, Donie Kingston gave the Dubs defence a few tremors with Laois and Conor Sweeney and Michael Quinlivan of Tipperary had moments when they were unplayable, but not enough of them.

Che Cullen of Fermanagh was an excellent full-back this year.

Where’s Galway’s All Star Ian Burke, you say?

Well, I’m convinced he got an All Star as there are psuedo-intellectuals on the All-Star selection committee who think they need to show they know more about football than the rest of us. Burke was Galway’s third-best forward this year, not one of the six best in the country.

And finally in the ‘unlucky ones’ is Dublin’s Eoin Murchan, a lad unknown to most people until mid-July.

By Sunday, September 2, he was Jim Gavin’s go-to man to be stuck on the opposition’s most mobile player. Murchan delivered in the big games.

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